Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is Maharashtra Heading for a Big Riot?

Shiv Sena people distributing the controversial CD in Aurangabad

There have been four riots in April in the Mara­thwada region: Sevali (3 April, Jalna district); Rav­er and Chopda (13 and 22 April, Jalgaon district); Bharari (18 April, Aurangabad district). The rea­son was the same. A controversial CD with a song, Kasam Ram ki khate hain, Mandir wahin banayenge (We take oath on Ram, we will build the temple there — Ayodhya), is being played in public, inciting anger among Muslims.

In Muslim-majority Sevali, Muslims objected when the song was played at a paan stall just outside a mosque. The in­cident blew up. Muslims resorted to stone pelting and stab­bing. At least seven Hindus have been stabbed. As a pro­test, Hindu organisations like the VHP, Bajrang Dal, BJP, Shiv Sena and Arya Samaj called for a district bandh. Volun­teers forced shops to down their shutters. Public buses were stoned. Slogans like "Anyone living in this country will have to say Vande Mataram" were raised.

Hundreds — belonging to both communities — have been arrested.

"Some Muslims here have become so sensitive, they al­ways overreact," said Amit Pradhan, a resident of Sevali.

"As far as the controversial CD episode is concerned, it was just one of the manifestations of communalism. Mara­thwada is communally sensitive. The basic cause of commu­nalism in Marathwada region is that people harbour a sense of revenge against the Nizam's rule (the region belonged to the pre-partition Hyderabad state)," scholar Ashgar Ali Engi­neer, who has documented almost each and every riot since 1961, told Covert.

In Raver, Jalgaon, the VHP annd Bajrang Dal organised a re­ligious procession without clearance from the police on Ram Navami. As it passed a Muslim mohalla near Kotlawada Masjid, provocative slogans were raised and somebody threw gulal on the mosque. Muslims reacted.

"The police tried to pacify the people, but nobody would listen. At least seven policemen have been injured in the communal clash," said Mushtaq Karimi, a social worker.

Both Hindus and Muslims have suffered. Most houses set on fire belonged to Hindus, while Muslims are being ha­rassed after the event. Of the 60 arrested, 50 are Muslims and ten Hindus.
"Muslim youths have been terrorised by mindless arrests. They are fleeing from their villages to the safer ghettos. It's the same story everywhere," Engineer lamented. Argues Ab­dul Karim Salar, a Jalgaon-based former politician and ed­ucationist, "It is a fact that Hindus have suffered more in financial terms, but does that give licence to the police to terrorise an entire community?" No action has been taken against the 'illegal' procession.

A Scuffle between a Hindu and Muslim in Chopda, Jalgaon, built quickly into a confrontation. Two Hindus died in po­lice firing. Shops and houses belonging to Muslims were set on fire.

"Police acted only when rioters started using kero­sene. Rioters turned their rage on the police, and one cop, Prakash Hake, was dragged by the collar for about 20 feet," one eyewitness said on the condition of anonymity. "The mob poured kerosene on him, but before he could be set alight, police opened fire and two Hindus died on the spot." 19 Hindus have been arrested so far.

In Aurangabad's Muslim majorirty Bharari village, the con­troversial song was being played outside a mosque as Mus­lims were offering the evening prayer. Minutes later, a near­by paan stall owned by a Muslim was attacked. Muslims allege that rioters wore saffron masks and raised provocative slo­gans. Muslims cowered in the mosque, shielded by the po­lice. Mumtaz Khan Pathan, owner of Yash Photo Studio who used to provide pictures to the press in Aurangabad district, became a story himself. "All my belongings worth Rs 240,000 have been vandalised," he said.

Ashgar Ali Engineer described the Marathwada region as communally "overactive" while western Maharashtra is mere­ly "active". He warned the state government that communal forces might try to stoke communal passions all across Maharashtra.

COVERT Magazine, May 15 – May 30

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